The last time Sea to Sky local Paul Bunbury raced at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Runoffs in 2014, it ended up being a disappointment.
He had barely started when his vehicle broke down.
So when he returned for this year’s event at Sonoma Raceway, competing on Oct. 19, Bunbury was thrilled not only to finish, but to take ninth place in the GT Lite division as well.
In 2014, at Monterey’s Laguna Seca Raceway, Bunbury’s 1995 Honda Civic failed him and left him seeking redemption for a quadrennial.
“I unfortunately had a mechanical issue on the first lap and didn’t get to complete even one lap,” he said. “With the same car, with four years of continual upgrades and modifications, with expectations on the low side to do more than maybe just complete the race, we were more successful than I’d hoped.”
The 20-car final saw racers come mostly from the western half of the continent, with California, Oregon, Colorado, Missouri, Washington and Texas all represented, though Ontario, Connecticut and Florida also saw individual racers vying for the crown.
“We didn’t get a lot of cars from the East Coast, but there were a few that had travelled across the country. Kudos to them for doing so, because it’s a long haul,” Bunbury said. “I feel pretty good to finish in the top half of that group. It’s the cream of the crop for the country and, obviously, Canada in terms of car racing.”
At the runoffs, the races are quick, lasting just 40 minutes or 25 laps, whichever comes first, due to potential delays because of crashes and the strict schedule to which organizers must adhere. Bunbury explained that the quick nature of the races affects his strategy fairly significantly.
“You can build and tune a car to be much more competitive over a longer race, as opposed to these sprint races for us. It’s 110 per cent for 40 minutes whereas, for instance, the Champ Car race is 16 hours and you’re building a car to last that long. You’re not driving it nearly as aggressively for that period of time as you are for these short sprint races,” he said.
The road to Sonoma was a long one, Bunbury explained, as he needed to hit a benchmark in at least three qualifiers to make the runoffs. He attended races in Seattle, Portland and at the host track in Sonoma to get there.
The lead-up was a confusing time, Bunbury said, as the runoff was supposed to have been held on the West Coast in 2017. However, the SCCA got a rare chance to host the runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017, delaying the Pacific return for a year. As well, when this year’s runoffs were announced, there wasn’t a qualifier announced for Sonoma that season, which Bunbury found strange. Bunbury and some friends entered an event at the raceway put on by a different organizer in February to get a sense of the track, but also entered the SCCA race when it was announced at a later date.
The nearest track with SCCA events is in Seattle, though Bunbury will sometimes race at Mission Speedway to get in track time. He noted, however, with its concrete walls, racers can’t afford to make mistakes at Mission without sustaining major damage to their vehicles.
“It is what it is. It’s ours, it’s home, it’s Canada. But it’s not the place you need to go if you want to step up your game,” he said.
“I went to Mission for 20 years and won dozens of championships, but it really didn’t mean much. You’ve got to go further afield to really be able to measure yourself against the best of the best.”
Bunbury thanked his wife Colleen, engine-and-transmission builder Curt Storms, suspension tuner Joe Harlan and friend and rival Chris Doodson of Surrey. Harlan also raced and finished second in the division while Doodson struggled and placed 15th.